NASA participated in a drone demonstration Wednesday at the Griffiss International Airport, which those involved in the test say was a milestone for their work and the future of the drone industry.
It marked the first time that Griffiss simultaneously flew four remotely piloted machines from a command center. The airport is one of seven FAA-sponsored test sites for commercial drones in the nation. They were able to avoid any crashes thanks to the latest version of an air traffic management software that NASA is developing.
Tony Basil, with NUAIR Alliance, the nonprofit coalition of private and public organizations overseeing the Griffiss drone testing, called that one of the touchdowns of the day.
"It validates that we're on the right track and they're closing in on the solution," Basil said.
Chuck Hereth was one of the pilots at the demonstration, and is a flight instructor at Griffiss. He says today's test was one step in the federal government's long-term project of trying to get drones and planes in the same space.
"What would the rules look like for that? How are we going to make the safety case that these things can operate and coexist with manned aircraft at an airport," Hereth said.
Over the next few years, NUAIR will send the drones farther away with the new central New York drone corridor that connects Griffiss with the Hancock International Airport in Syracuse. They also plan on testing the latest fixes for issues that are preventing wide-spread usage of drones.
Basil says they're currently trying to perfect the ability of drones to respond to unexpected barriers in their flight path.
"WalMart makes a delivery down the road here and it’s going to go 5 miles to somebody’s house. If a crane pops up putting up a building halfway in between, first you have to detect that that’s happened and then you have to have the ability to actually control it," Basil said. "Most of these aircraft - the control link can not be sufficient to still make it stop, turn, climb, whatever to get around that crane. So we will have a ways to go."